David Scadden, M.D. titled his book Cancerland: A Medical Memoir. Truthfully, it’s more of a scientific history book. There’s very little in it that constitutes memoir, in the sense of personal experiences. He does tell a bit of his mother’s cancer story, and some parts of integrating family life with being a physician.

On the other hand, Scadden discusses the science and medicine of cancer treatment. He’s actually participated, both clinically and by researching, so this is his personal experience. But from the reader’s perspective it doesn’t feel like a typical memoir.

Okay, now I’ve got that off my chest. Here’s the rest. Dr. Scadden is a driven and clearly compassionate physician. His story is complex, mostly because he’s been involved in some innovative cancer treatments.

Scadden explains these treatments in a way that balances science with layman’s terms. For example, he delves into stem cells, genetics, and immunotherapy, among other things. It’s complex stuff, and you need to know before you read that it takes some effort to absorb. But Scadden uses patient stories to help lighten the load.

My conclusions

Dr. Scadden worked with another writer, Michael D’Antonio, to craft this book. It can’t have been easy to make such high-level science accessible to regular folks. And Scadden doesn’t get carried away with egotistical pronouncements. In fact, he seems pretty humble to me considering his experiences.

I appreciated learning about the other scientists with whom the author both learned and collaborated. No major scientific development happens instantaneously in a lab with a sole researcher. The team aspect of cancer research is quite evident here.

Having just read two other books about the early days of treating HIV / AIDS, this was a good companion. The two types of research complemented each other more than I realized. Those other books were The Great Believers and Taking Turns. Each of these three books is unique, and they form a valuable triad of knowledge.


Many thanks to NetGalley, the authors, St. Martin’s Press, and Thomas Dunne Books for the opportunity to read a digital ARC in exchange for this honest review. (Note: the photo above is stock photography, not the actual author.)